Youth club that embraced Syrian refugees scoops national award

Ballaghaderreen group takes top prize at Foróige Youth Citizenship Awards in Dublin

Sophie Beveridge, Diarmuid Geever and Jessica Fahy from Ballaghadereen Foróige club in Roscommon with the Aldi Foróige Youth Citizenship trophy in the Citywest Hotel, Dublin.  Photograph: Mark Stedman

Sophie Beveridge, Diarmuid Geever and Jessica Fahy from Ballaghadereen Foróige club in Roscommon with the Aldi Foróige Youth Citizenship trophy in the Citywest Hotel, Dublin. Photograph: Mark Stedman

 

A youth club that welcomed teenage Syrian refugees to the heart of Ballaghaderreen, Co Roscommon, through social evenings, pool games and other activities has won a national award.

Teenagers in Ballaghaderreen took the top prize at the Aldi Foróige Youth Citizenship Awards in Citywest over the weekend which featured more than 200 community projects involving young people.

On discovering that seven of the 80 or so Syrian refugees being resettled to the Co Roscommon town were their own age, the local youth club – ranging in age from 13 to 16 – set up a series of welcome events.

Alan Popa and Matt Cienivch from the Lucan Foróige Juniors at the Foróige Youth Citizenship Awards in the Citywest Hotel, Dublin. Photograph: Mark Stedman
Alan Popa and Matt Cienivch from the Lucan Foróige Juniors at the Foróige Youth Citizenship Awards in the Citywest Hotel, Dublin. Photograph: Mark Stedman

They included a welcome poster – translated into Arabic – telling the new arrivals about their club, as well as individual messages of welcome and support from young people in town.

They also invited young Syrians to a welcome evening where they engaged in activities not requiring much shared language such as clay modelling, pool and Connect Four.

Presentation packs prepared for their new neighbours included handmade friendship bracelets, woolly hats and giant Cadbury’s’s chocolate bars.

Theresa Geever, club leader of the Ballaghaderreen Foróige Club, said the response of local teens helped ensure the arrival of refugees in the area was a positive experience.

“When it was announced that Syrians were coming to the town, people were unsure and asking how will this work. And how will it affect the local community?” she said.

Aoife O’Meara from the Piltown Foróige Club, Kilkenny, at the Foróige Youth Citizenship Awards in the Citywest Hotel, Dublin. Photograph: Mark Stedman
Aoife O’Meara from the Piltown Foróige Club, Kilkenny, at the Foróige Youth Citizenship Awards in the Citywest Hotel, Dublin. Photograph: Mark Stedman

“Then, the club members went out, made it happen and helped set a good example. The Syrian teenagers are so enthusiastic and happy to have the opportunity to meet peers in the community. And our members are learning about the power of empathy and reaching out.”

The youth club was competing against hundreds of other projects involving more than 2,000 young people on topics including equality, homelessness, mental health and community regeneration.

The programme involves young people researching the needs of their community, organising practical action in response, evaluating the effectiveness of their work and reflecting on what they have learned along the way.

Foróige’s chief executive Seán Campbell said the entries showed how young people are using their talents and initiative to make a positive difference to the world around them.

“We are so proud of everything these young people have achieved in their communities and it’s wonderful to see all the skills they’ve gathered in the process,” he said.

Seo Linn singer Stiofán Ó Fearail with fans at the Foróige Youth Citizenship Awards in the Citywest Hotel, Dublin. Photograph: Mark Stedman
Seo Linn singer Stiofán Ó Fearail with fans at the Foróige Youth Citizenship Awards in the Citywest Hotel, Dublin. Photograph: Mark Stedman

Foróige’s citizenship programme was established more than 40 years ago to empower young people to take action to make their communities, schools or society a better place by volunteering to do socially valuable work.

Some of this year’s entries involved young people living in direct provision, such as teenagers in Mosney, Co Meath, who took on a project on road safety in Ireland following concerns over the dangers facing youth in the area.

They invited a speaker from the Road Safety Authority, distributed safety gear to others at the centre and passed on what they learned to younger children at the centre.

The problem of suicide was also a big theme among many entries. Young people from Togher Youth Development Project created a community “healing garden”, where locals can reflect, meditate and find peace.

Some groups made videos to document their research or tell stories, such as Ballinascarthy’s Foróige club.

After realising that the story of Henry Ford’s family’s emigration from Cork had never been recounted on film, the group created a short movie.